DENVER — In his second tour in Afghanistan, Matthew Kahl manned a mounted gun and headed to pick up a soldier and medic who had been shot. 

Suddenly, the vehicle he was in hit something. 

Kahl flew from his position and slammed his face into the turret shield. 

He got a medevac out of the country and eventually was prescribed plenty of painkillers and antidepressants.

“My worst injury was PTSD and I didn’t even know it yet,” said Kahl. “Six months after I got back I really started to dwell on the things I had seen and things I had done in the quiet moments.”

He’d attempt suicide twice. More doctor visits led to more drugs. He said nothing seemed to work until he tried psychedelic drugs.

“You can sit there and talk with a therapist over and over and over again and just beat your head against that brick wall and never make any progress,” he recounted. “But for some reason these substances allow you to look at your experiences and look at your life in a different way. A different perspective and see how you can tinker and change it. You’re not stuck.”

STUDIES

Recent research shows psilocybin, or 'magic mushrooms,' may be effective in treating depression, anxiety and other disorders.

A recent Johns Hopkins study monitored 51 terminally ill cancer patients with end-of-life fear after they took psilocybin in a clinical setting. Six months after taking the drug, 80-percent maintained decreased depression.

Another study published last year shows mushrooms have a low potential for abuse and aren't physically addictive. Johns Hopkins researchers have suggested psilocybin be reclassified from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule IV drug.

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) is expediting new clinical trials of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression. It granted breakthrough therapy status to Compass Pathways last year meaning the administration believes mushrooms could be a significant improvement over current treatment.

But there are still unknowns being studied. Researchers say potency varies and that people with a personal history of psychosis could relapse when taking these drugs. 

There are concerns by some studying the drug about people using mushrooms outside of a clinical setting.

DENVER’S DILEMMA

Kahl is now an advocate for decriminalization. 

Organizers in Denver gathered more than 5,500 valid signatures late last year to get Initiative 301 on the ballot, giving voters the chance to prevent police and prosecutors from citing or charging anyone for having psilocybin mushrooms.

“If we were to become that state, we’d be a hell of a lot better than all the rest. There’s no reason these substances should be criminalized. There’s no reason we should be throwing people in jail for trying to treat themselves,” he said.

Supporters say psilocybin is a medicine that they shouldn’t be put in jail for. If caught right now, they could get a yearlong sentence for possession.

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann is just one of Denver's leaders opposed to decriminalizing psilocybin in the city.

“I don't think we know enough about psilocybin and the effects that it can have on people,” said McCann. “I am worried about Denver becoming a place where people will want to come to use drugs. Drug deals can go bad. People end up getting shot. Often people get robbed. Drugs are the basis of a lot of criminal behavior.”

She said she worries about psilocybin becoming a problem because it’s not much of one now. Of the 9,267 drug cases filed by the Denver District Attorney's Office between 2016 and 2018, only 11 involved psilocybin.

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